Take a bow, Bill Belichick. You've earned it.
At 4-1, and 2-0 into a brutal three-month stretch, the New England Patriots, really your New England Patriots, are officially somehow in the discussion.
Basically, it's anybody's Lombardi Trophy. Why not the Patriots.
Around here it's been mighty negative the last few months, or really nine months since the team's debilitating loss to these same Baltimore Ravens last January.
As the franchise's CEO of football operations, Belichick has taken the brunt of it.
He's been called a lot of things, including a "has-been," a lousy coach and an even lousier general manager. The one that caught my ear recently has been "the game has passed him by."
Another one compared him to his days in Cleveland when he was the quintessential control freak due to the fact that he doesn't have an offensive and defensive coordinator.
Yesterday was living proof Belichick has never been better. The Patriots look liked they didn't deserve to be on the field the first half yesterday, with their young defensive backs looking confused all too often.
"I'm really proud of those kids," said Belichick. "They played hard. (They were) 10 points down in the fourth quarter, rallied, fought through it in overtime."
Boring? Yes. But it couldn't have been more meaningful. These really are kids leading his defense, with five starters yesterday who haven't yet turned 24.
Then came the adjustments. Then his "kids," as Belichick himself called them yesterday, started looking like Patriots' teams of Belichick's past.
Apparently, the guys in the locker room haven't been paying attention to the criticism coming Belichick's way?
"Who's been saying (the game has passed him by)? Have you heard that from anybody in this locker room?" asked Vince Wilfork, getting a "no" answer. "I didn't think so. "As far as I'm concerned, Bill is still a genius. The things he still sees is amazing. He puts himself in the mind of the offensive coordinator on the other team. He predicts what they're going to do. And he's almost always right."
One thing we have to give Belichick credit for, since Day 1, is his consistency. And other than his press conferences — consistently dull — he has focused on only one statistic above the rest — wins.
If you were to look at the stat sheet, you'd think that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco "schooled" Brady yesterday. Flacco completed 27 of 35 passes for 285 yards and two TDs (a 119.3 rating) compared to Brady's 27-for-44, 292 yards, two interceptions and one TD. Brady's rating was 69.5.
But Flacco, especially when it counted, wasn't in Brady's league.
Lest we forget what Belichick did as CEO last week when he basically traded Randy Moss for Deion Branch. The vast majority of Patriots fans didn't like that trade.
Where are those people today? My guess is they will be hiding. What could they say after the Patriots beat another Super Bowl contender?
Didn't Belichick deserve some slack?
Last season was a disappointment, especially at the end.
But what about the near-perfect season and near-Super Bowl in 2007? Or how about the 11-5 Patriots without Brady in 2008?
If that didn't impress you, then this 4-1 run probably doesn't either.
But you may want to ask some of Belichick's employees about what they think of their leader. You'd probably be surprised.
"I would not have answered the phone if I thought that (he was washed up)," said Patriots tight end and captain, Alge Crumpler. "My first phone call from Tom Brady he said, 'If everybody does what Bill tells them to do, we'll win.' That's what he said. And so far, he's pretty much been right."
Right or not, unfortunately for Belichick, he can't enjoy this bow too long. That's life in the NFL. Next Sunday the Patriots travel across the country to play the San Diego Chargers, which has always been a difficult trip.
But if he proved anything this early season, and in particular yesterday, the man can still coach.
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E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.